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Eurocentrism and minority rights

WHAT IS referred to as the black community in Britain comprises nearly one million people, almost 2% of the total population. They are mainly located in poor inner city districts, with 500,000 living in London alone where they make up approximately 8% of the city's population. In a few London boroughs such as Brent and Hackney they comprise just over 20% of the total population.

The black community in Britain is a diverse population that includes newly arrived asylum seekers and refugees from Africa as well as those who have lived in Britain for several generations. It has become a predominantly British-born population and statistics show that it suffers from some of the worst discrimination and disadvantages when compared to other citizens of this country.

Eurocentrism is a belief in the superiority of Europe, its peoples' and their ideas and cultures and a feeling of contempt for other parts of the world and other peoples' and their cultures. Eurocentrism sees Europe as the centre and only civilised part of the world and ignores developments in other parts of the world. Eurocentrism takes many forms but it is an essentially racist view of the world. On the basis of this belief justification has been found for the imposition of the so-called "Westminster" political system on much of Africa and the Caribbean. The growth of the black community in Britain is as a consequence of Britain's forced enslavement, oppression and exploitation of Africa's human and material resources In the field of education and the media, for example, Eurocentrism has given rise to the view that literature should only consist of European and especially English literature and that the only important history is European and especially English history. Indeed, in this regard, it was once arrogantly suggested that Africa had no history!

The growth of the Black community in Britain is as a consequence of Britain's forced enslavement, oppression and exploitation of Africa's human and material resources. This brought Britain and other countries in Europe huge economic benefits from the 16th century up to the present day. The racism that developed as justification for the exploitation of Africa and the Caribbean still exists in the institutions of this country and is officially promulgated in laws such as the Nationality and Asylum Acts.

Such laws, as well as institutionalised racism and other means, have been used by successive governments to attempt to establish first and second class citizenship. The state has set up organisations such as the Commission for Racial Equality to pay lip service to "equal opportunities" but these organisations have only served to keep the problems of the black community in the shadows. The government, whether Conservative or Labour, has sought to create exploitable differences amongst people by encouraging discrimination and giving the go-ahead to racists and fascists to launch physical and verbal attacks against national minorities.

The black community is of a mainly working class composition and significant numbers are employed in the National Health Service (NHS), engineering, transportation and communications. One aspect of the plans of the government has been to maintain sections of the black community as a cheap source of exploitable labour, as a means of making profit and also to create divisions amongst the British working class; turning sections of the class against one another. Amongst those seeking work, statistics show that the unemployment and discrimination that the black community has suffered has had the consequence of creating a feeling of alienation, and even a sense of not belonging to the working class. Nevertheless the black community and other democratic peoples have waged pitched battles against racism and have made inroads in addressing discrimination in many sectors of society.

However, the inroads made against racism have not met the expectations of the black community. In all sectors of society racism and discrimination are still very much in evidence. In the sphere of history and culture, the impact of Eurocentrism has led to the diversity of the black community being virtually ignored and some aspects of our history and cultures, particularly music, being taken up for exploitation.

Black political organisations and community groups have been formed to fight for change but they have, through their isolation and misguided political orientation, been marginalised and are in many ways powerless to influence change. The alienation and exclusion that is felt by the community and the sense of separateness and isolation from the main body of society, in particular the working class, has led to many in the black community becoming political in a very insular manner. From this insular and narrow perspective black political organisations and intellectuals have been unable to add to the attempts to grapple with and solve the problems of the whole of society and the black community.

In the sphere of history and culture, the impact of Eurocentrism has led to the diversity of the black community being virtually ignored and some aspects of our history and cultures, particularly music, being taken up for exploitation.

In response to the side-lining of the history and cultures of African and Caribbean peoples, some have fought for so-called "Black History Months", occasions when the community is permitted public showing of our history and cultures. The history and cultures of African and Caribbean peoples' are served up like some exotic delicacy or some oddity to which all are welcomed to partake in or peer at during these "Black History" events the communities' many national cultures and history are reduced and trivialised to the sampling of food, dance, music and dress. Afterwards these things are then placed away for another year. This is a direct reaction against Eurocentrism and while it represents an attempt to preserve the history and cultures of African and Caribbean peoples it only serves to collude with those who seek to trivialise the heritage of the black community.

The African and Caribbean communities must fight against the trivialisation of their history and cultures and we must strive to develop and practice our culture in all aspects of our life. To do this we must fight for the recognition of our history and cultures and fight for resources to promote these in everyday life. How can the black community fight to win its rights and safeguard its many national cultures?

One of the greatest problems in our communities is the sense of not belonging which is felt by many. The government, by playing on issues of race and conspiring to confuse the issues of nationality and citizenship has successfully kept us from making a full contribution to the political processes of the country.

The confusion created on the question of nationality and citizenship has led to problems with self-identification for many members of our community, especially the young. They feel that they have to make a choice between describing themselves as Caribbean, African or black British, when in actual fact there is no choice to make. Nationality relates to a person's historical lineage and cannot be altered or changed; it is the imprint of a persons' heritage. If a persons' origin is Africa or the Caribbean then that person can describe themselves as belonging to a nation or a people of Africa or the Caribbean.

This has no bearing on their citizenship which should only depend on being a human being resident in the country.

The fight for rights should begin by affirming the humanity of all

For the black community to win rights it has to know what these rights are on the basis of clear definitions. The issue of rights is also confused by the fact that in Britain no constitution exists to guarantee peoples' rights. This is why the government has been able to deny the rights of asylum seekers in this country and has withdrawn many other democratic rights won by people in Britain in their struggles with the government and the class that it represents.

The fight for rights has to begin with the assertion of inviolable rights applicable to all human beings on the basis of there being human. These rights are non-negotiable, they cannot be given or taken away by anyone or anything.

They are not dependent on race, colour, national origin, language, culture, sex, religion or lifestyle. They are solely dependent on being human. In view of the historical denial of the humanity of African and Caribbean peoples, it is appropriate that the fight for rights should begin by affirming the humanity of all. However, as inviolable human rights do not exist at present, it is the responsibility of everyone to fight for them. What are the inviolable rights that human beings should have? First they must have all the necessities of life to meet their human needs - food, clothing and shelter. In addition they must have rights on the basis of belonging to a collective. Women, workers and youth are examples of these collectives.

The isolation which the black community has experienced must come to an end Women must have their rights guaranteed. Because women give birth to the next generation, they have claims upon society to guarantee their health, safety and well-being, as well as that of the younger generation. They are experiencing a broad attack on their economic, social and physical well-being, especially in the sphere of health-care and child support. Workers must be guaranteed their rights as the producers of the wealth in society. Society must ensure their right to job security and the highest living standards possible within the present conditions. They must be guaranteed safe working conditions.

What must the guaranteed rights of national minorities be?

National minorities must be guaranteed the right to their own languages and cultures. This responsibility should belong to the national minorities themselves to organise and raise the question of what rights belong to them in society and to contribute to determining the future direction of society.

With rights there are duties and with citizenship comes the responsibilities of a citizen. In the condition where rights are denied to all citizens, it is the responsibility of every individual to bring into being the condition where rights are granted to all. The isolation which the black community has experienced must come to an end. To bring about this situation the community must make demands based upon the fact of being a human being and resident in the country as well as elaborating a modern definition of citizenship. We must take up the general interests of society as well as the specific interests of our communities and harmonise the two in the interest of moving society forward.

Only in this way can the black community contribute towards building of a better society and deal with the problems of racism, discrimination and isolation and create an environment in which our national cultures, histories and peoples can be respected.

* First published in two parts: Issue 2 of Progress, July 1996 and Issue 3 of Progress, January 1997

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